For more than 40 years, Tinley Park resident Charley Smith has worked to help people who have disabilities.
While still a young teacher in 1971, he used a $10,000 loan from a childhood friend to build a statewide program of 26 sites dedicated to helping people who have disabilities. Smith, 71, would go on to serve for 30 years as executive director of that program, Southwest Community Services in Tinley Park. And in 1989, he founded another organization, the Community Services Foundation to help provide funding to similar programs.
In honor of Smith's lifetime of public service, Tinley Park officials recognized him as Humanitarian of the Year earlier this month.
Mayor Ed Zabrocki called Smith "one of the very special people that has made this village the family-oriented, unselfish and concerned community for which it is known" and praised Smith, a lifelong resident of Tinley Park, for his reliability.
"When Charley said he's going to do (something), it was no fluff and puff," Zabrocki said.
For much of his life, Smith has been a leader, according to village officials. His record began as a student in the 1950s at Central Junior High School, where he was recognized for "unselfish leadership." At Bremen Community High School, Smith was elected class president all four years. He majored in special education at Illinois State University in Normal.
After graduation, he worked at Thornton Township High School in Harvey as a teacher, but then was soon recruited by a local pastor to establish a workshop that became a full-time educational training center.
His career really got going in 1971, when Smith launched Southwest Community Services, which grew into a multi-million-dollar operation under his tenure. The organization's mission is to help empower people with disabilities so they can be independent and grow. The Community Services Foundation, another organization he formed, helps provide funding to programs as a supplement to state and federal grants.
One of the things he's proud of, Smith said, is helping to give options to parents and families. Others in his field have praised his dedication to public service.
Mary Pat Ambrosino, the current executive director of Southwest Community Services, praised Smith as a "pioneer" for individuals with disabilities.
"He always put people first, especially individuals with disabilities," Ambrosino said. "It was his mission in life to make sure that they had quality programs, and I think really anything he touched made it a quality program. He demanded as such."
For years, Ambrosino said, Smith would sign his letters with "Yours through serving people."